For the past three weeks, the world has watched aghast as Myanmar’s military has carried out the latest, most deadly phase of a five-year operation against the Muslim Rohingya people who number about 1.1-1.3 million.
It has been an outrageously outsized reaction by Myanmar’s notorious military, known as the Tatmadaw, to a small attack by what is, thus far, a threadbare insurgency that has taken clearer shape as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
It’s of little surprise that the Rohingya, who have suffered waves of persecution and terrorisation by Myanmar’s military, and Burma’s before it, for countless decades, have finally decided to fight back.
That is now being used as an excuse for what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called a textbook case of ethnic cleansing. In forcing roughly half the Rohingya population from their homes, it’s hard to call it anything else.
At the same time, the world has been bewildered, then dismayed, as arguably the most internationally (and domestically) beloved Nobel Peace Prize Laureate since Nelson Mandela, Myanmar’s state counsellor, foreign minister and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has remained all but silent. When she has opened her mouth, it has only been to put her foot in it by introducing red herrings such as the alleged complicity of NGOs in the insurgency.
She remains unable, for largely political reasons, to utter the word Rohingya or even to make comments of any concern about the fate of the latest victims of one of the world’s most murderous militaries.
Myanmar’s military also controls the police force and the border force. It likewise holds 25% of the seats in all Myanmar’s federal and state parliaments, unelected.
Few have bothered to dig into the deeply complex political minefield that is modern Myanmar where Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy, despite winning the country’s 2015 poll in a landslide, are very much the junior, powerless partners in an invidious power-sharing arrangement that seems to have so easily tricked the rest of the world.
Yet it is Suu Kyi, helpless to stop any of the military’s continuing attacks on citizens around the country, who has been almost universally slammed by a Western media always keen to be quick with their moral judgements.
One thing rarely mentioned is the fact that there are 2 million largely ethnic Rakhine Buddhists who also live in the state that bears their name; decades of propaganda from the military, and the hardline Buddhist monk groups they fund, have fanned the flames of Islamophobia in Rakhine and much of central, largely Buddhist, Myanmar.
While the Rakhine people have fought their own battles against the centre it is they that the clear majority of Myanmar’s citizens and Sun Kyi’s supporters are supporting. For her to speak up for the Rohingya in any meaningful way and oppose the military operation, as distinct from the military itself, would be to shun her own support base. This is her invidious bind. Media propaganda that the crisis is all the work of the insurgents has worked like a charm in central Yangon on the evidence of a visit there last week.
Other former Nobel Prize winners such as Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai who has spoken out against Suu Kyi are themselves bad mouthed by the Bamar, the majority ethic group that includes Suu Kyi, in Yangon and elsewhere.
As hideous as the events now roiling Rakhine are, it is far from the only place in Myanmar where Suu Kyi has been powerless to halt the murderous campaigns of the Tatmadaw.
In northern Kachin State and neighboring Shan State there have been ongoing civil wars that have so far left 130,000 people in internally displaced person camps and which continue to quietly escalate on borders with China and India.
And another 100,000 plus people remain in nine camps on the western border with Thailand, many afraid to return across territory dotted with unmarked landmines.
It’s true enough that Suu Kyi has never appeared to have much time for her country’s ethnic minorities nor has she held out the promise of a federated Myanmar. Yet neither has she ever made any public or even reported private statements about the Islamophobia that is starkly apparent across Myanmar. This has been whipped up by nationalistic Buddhist monks funded by the military. This is what sits at the center of the lack of popular disgust over what is occurring in the country’s west, to the Rohingya.
Yet her government has accepted all the recommendations of a report put together by a handpicked group of international crisis experts lead by former UN chief Kofi Annan, something the military’s political arm — the Union Solidarity and Development Party — has spoken out against.
All of this is part of a trap that Suu Kyi has found herself in, possibly willingly a first, set by the generals. Sanctions have been taken off by the West, investment has poured in, military chiefs are welcomed in Western capitals, yet the generals still run the place and conflict continues apace. Now, the generals appear to be actively determined to tear her reputation down and make her stand by helplessly watching.
*You can read the rest of this article at ucanews.com, where you can also find more on-the-ground reporting on the Rohingya crisis.